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Blue Bird Corporation
Type Privately-held company
Founded 1927
Founder(s) Albert Luce
Headquarters Fort Valley, Georgia, USA
Industry Bus manufacturing
Products School buses
Owner(s) Cerberus Capital Management

Blue Bird Corporation, previously known as Blue Bird Body Company, is a manufacturer of school and activity buses.[1] Blue Bird's corporate headquarters and main manufacturing facility are in Fort Valley, Georgia.


1927–1945: Foundation and All-Steel School Buses

Blue Bird Body Company was founded in 1932 by Albert L. Luce, Sr.[2] Originally the owner of a Ford dealership, Luce built his first bus in 1927. The Blue Bird name originated from the reception of school children to a blue and yellow demonstrator unit to a group of school children; Luce did not use the family name for his business out of fears of it being mispronounced.[2] In 1937, the company began production of all-steel bus bodies, an innovation which soon replaced the wooden bodies which were then in common use around the United States.[2] The early use of farm wagons on a part-time basis soon evolved into purpose-built school bus products, each with economy and function as major priorities.

As the second quarter of the 20th century began, Albert Luce Sr. was one of the entrepreneurs of the period who transitioned from building wagons to developing some of the earliest purpose-built school buses. In a 1939 conference, Blue Bird engineers helped to develop the color school bus yellow, which is still in use today. Blue Bird and Wayne Corporation were several of the earliest to experiment with steel body construction, although such efforts were severely limited by war production product shortages and restrictions during World War II.

1945–1960: The First All American

Following World War II, continuing a transition from one-room schools, there was a nationwide movement in the US to consolidate schools into fewer and larger ones, facilitating graded class structures. This meant that fewer students were attending school in their immediate neighborhoods, particularly as they progressed into high school; for many, the previous practice of walking to school became impractical. This led in turn to a large increase in the demand for transportation.

The company grew substantially and became a major school bus body builder in the post-World War II period. In 1948, Blue Bird founder Albert Luce Sr. saw a design for a flat front bus at an auto show in Paris. Two years later Blue Bird Body Company introduced their own transit-style design which evolved into the Blue Bird All American, often pointed to as one of the pioneer transit designs to gain widespread acceptance for school buses in North America, along with Wayne Corporation, Gillig Corporation and Crown Coach Corporation (whose "Supercoach" dated to 1932). In 1952, Blue Bird became the first school bus manufacturer to produce its own chassis rather than rely on outside suppliers for the All American; today, Blue Bird builds the chassis for every full-size bus produced.[3]

1960–1990: Expansion into new markets

Blue Bird became an international manufacturer of school buses with the opening of Blue Bird Canada in Brantford, Ontario in 1958.[4] In 1965, the company opened its first facility in South America. In Guatemala, Blue Bird manufactured the bodies for the Conventional and the All American for use both as school and transit buses. Instead of importing truck chassis (or the Blue Bird All American transit-style chassis) from the United States, the bus bodies were manufactured on locally available chassis unseen in North America (Mercedes-Benz, Hino, Nissan Diesel, and Toyota).

At the time of Albert Luce, Sr.'s death in 1962, Blue Bird Body Company had become the fourth-largest school bus manufacturer in the industry.[2] By 1980, Blue Bird was one of the "Big Six" school bus body manufacturers in the United States, competing with Carpenter Body Works, Superior Coach Company, Thomas Built Buses, Inc., Ward Body Works, and Wayne Corporation. By this time, almost the entire Baby Boom generation had completed their high-school education; along with the move to from cities to suburbs, the higher student populations of the previous two decades had been a key factor behind school bus sales. The recession of the early 1980s cut into deeply into profits, leading to the re-organization or closure of several manufacturers. Blue Bird fared better than most manufacturers, becoming the largest manufacturer in terms of sales; by the mid-1980s, one out of every three new school buses was a Blue Bird.[2]

Wanderlodge and Transit Buses

Main article: Blue Bird Wanderlodge
"Large Marge", A 1980 Blue Bird FC33 Wanderlodge motorhome

Blue Bird Wanderlodge (1980)

In the 1960s, Blue Bird Body Company also started making luxury motor coaches based on the All American. Branded "Wanderlodge", the first of this popular product line was built in 1963. The design of the Wanderlodge closely followed that of the All American for over 25 years.

Blue Bird entered the commercial public transit bus market in the 1970s. The shorter wheelbase transit-style models proved popular with smaller cities and those with cul-de-sac route ends, providing better manueverability, and more efficient costs than larger models. The Q-Bus commercial bus for transit and charter applications was introduced in 1992.[5]

Small School Buses

Main article: Blue Bird Micro Bird

Although Blue Bird did not come up with the idea of the small school bus, the company gained significant market share with two of its designs. In 1975, Blue Bird introduced the Micro Bird, a dual rear-wheel cutaway van similar to the Wayne Busette. The Micro Bird set itself apart from other small school buses of the time by featuring a full-height school bus door and additional windows forward of the door to aid loading-zone visibility. Blue Bird would go on to produce the Micro Bird for 35 years with only minor changes, the largest changes being in the van chassis used. The last Micro Birds were produced in 2010.

2011 Micro Bird by Girardin G5 photographed at a dealership.

Micro Bird by Girardin, Blue Bird's current small school bus. Pictured here is the G5.

A limitation behind the Micro Bird was that its van chassis restricted the overall width of the bus body. For a school bus that was still short in length but was still as wide as the Conventional/All American, a different solution was needed. In the early 1970s, several manufacturers had begun building bus bodies on General Motors delivery-van chassis. The Chevrolet P30 chassis allowed for full-size (96" wide) bodywork to be fitted, while its set-back front axle allowed for greater maneuverability over a van or a conventional of the same length. These are known as Type B school buses. In 1977, the Mini Bird was introduced. Like the Micro Bird, it was also marketed towards operators transporting special-needs students. The Mini Bird was sold until 2005.


Main article: Blue Bird TC/2000

For the 1988 model year, Blue Bird supplemented the All American school bus line with the TC/2000 transit-style school bus. Unlike the premium All American, the TC/2000 was priced lower (nearly in line with the Conventional) in an effort to secure bids from larger fleet operators. Coinciding with the introduction of the TC/2000 was most extensive redesign of the All American for the first time since the late 1950s; it was introduced for 1989.

Blue Bird TC/2000 in service as mobile library

From 1997 to 2001, Blue Bird sold a smaller version of the TC/2000 named the TC/1000. Like the TC/2000, the TC/1000 was developed for a specific type of buyer. Its body was slightly modified to better accommodate operators who transported special needs customers.

1990–2006: Ownership changes

From its 1932 foundation until 1984, Blue Bird was run entirely by the Luce family, either by Albert Sr or by his three sons. In 1986, the board of directors hired Paul Glaske, president of Marathon LeTourneau, a Texas-based heavy equipment manufacturer.[2] During this time, the Luce family still maintained ownership of the company. In 1992, Merrill Lynch Capital Partners purchased an 82% stake of the company in a management-led buyout with the other 18% spread between Paul Glaske and 14 other Blue Bird managers.[2] After the buyout, the company name changed from Blue Bird Body Company to Blue Bird Corporation.

Sagging demand, financial difficulties and changing world markets in the 1990s and early 2000s lead to Blue Bird closing two plants and opening another. Blue Bird East was shut down in 1992; Blue Bird de Mexico in Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, was opened in 1995.

Blue Bird was owned by the British Henlys Group PLC with a substantial financial stake held by Volvo Group[6] from 1999 to 2004. Henlys had financial difficulties during this time, including some not related to its investment in Blue Bird. Blue Bird de Mexico in Monterrey, Mexico was closed in 2001.[7] Blue Bird Midwest was closed in 2002.

2008 Blue Bird Vision conventional school bus operated by the Shelby County, Alabama Board of Education in Helena, Alabama.

Blue Bird Vision

According to a company news release from the fall of 2004, Blue Bird became the "sole operating subsidiary" of a newly created holding company, Peach County Holdings Inc. As part of the deal, a banking syndicate made up of Henlys creditors owned 42.5 percent of the Peach stock, according to Blue Bird. The Volvo Group (the world's largest bus manufacturer) owned another 42.5 percent, with the balance owned by Henlys' "pension scheme" and Blue Bird's management. Also in 2004, Blue Bird introduced the Vision, the first conventional-style school bus to be built without relying on an outside supplier for chassis.

However, after a bankruptcy filing, Blue Bird was acquired by Cerberus Capital Management. In connection with the acquisition by Cerberus of North American Bus Industries and Optima Bus Corporation, Blue Bird's acquisition led to Cerberus having a complete line of school and transit buses. Blue Bird is currently owned by the Traxis Group B.V., who acquired them in 2006.[8]

Product Changes

The late 1980s and 1990s saw the Blue Bird product lineup in flux in comparison to the decades before. In 1988, Blue Bird introduced the TC/2000, its first all-new transit-style school bus in over 25 years; the flagship All American was redesigned a year later. In 1991, the Blue Bird Wanderlodge ended the use of its school bus body. The 1992 Q-Bus was the first Blue Bird transit bus designed from the ground up as a transit bus and not derived from the All American.

The 1990s were also a period that the company explored the use of alternative power sources for school buses. In 1991, Blue Bird introduced the first school bus (an All American Rear Engine) powered by compressed natural gas (CNG).[9] In 1994, Blue Bird developed a battery-powered school bus in an effort with Westinghouse Electronic Systems for a school district in California.[2] While the electric school bus remained a prototype, Blue Bird has continued to offer CNG as an option on the All American since its 1991 introduction.

2007–present: Renewed Focus On School Buses

2008 Blue Bird All American RE (A3)

Through 2007, Blue Bird executed a series of plant closing and product line divestitures intended to re-focus the company on the school bus market in an effort to improve profitability and market position.[10] The commercial bus product lines were sold to Cerberus subsidiary North American Bus Industries, Inc. for assembly at NABI's Anniston, Alabama facilities.[10] Blue Bird’s original and last remaining international plant, Blue Bird Canada, was closed August 10, 2007.[4] Later in 2007, the rights to the Wanderlodge were sold to Complete Coach Works, ending Blue Bird's 44-year participation in the recreational vehicle market. [10][11]

Blue Bird No. 1, the first steel-body Blue Bird school bus, was donated to The Henry Ford Museum in 2008.[12]

In October 2009, Blue Bird entered into a joint venture with Canadian school bus manufacturer Girardin Minibus. The partnership, named Micro Bird, Inc. ended production of the Micro Bird model to consolidate all Type A school bus production at the Girardin facilities in Quebec, Canada. All future Type A school buses will be branded Blue Bird Micro Bird by Girardin while Blue Bird itself focuses on Type C and D buses.[13] The 2010 Micro Bird was the last Blue Bird body built on a non-Blue Bird chassis.

Manufacturing and assembly

Traditionally, school buses such as those produced by Blue Bird consist of components purchased from various "outside" suppliers and parts which are manufactured "in house" to the company's specifications. These two categories of parts are then typically assembled into bodies which can be mounted onto chassis which have often been variations of those used in a myriad of truck applications.

Production-wise, the large "home" plant complex in Fort Valley, Georgia served as both an in house part manufacturing plant for the entire organization, as well as one of the six locations where bodies were assembled from in house and purchased components. Parts and service were also located in Fort Valley, as was Wanderlodge Wayside Park, a tree-shaded motor home park for visiting Wanderlodges adjacent to the Wanderlodge plant.


In addition to school, activity, and commercial applications, Blue Bird buses have been custom-built for unique applications such as bloodmobiles (blood donation buses), mobile libraries, and public safety command centers.

School Buses

Current Product Line
Model Name Micro Bird by Girardin Vision All American
Photo A 2011 Blue Bird Micro Bird by Girardin. 2008 Blue Bird Vision 2010 Blue Bird All American FE on display at a transportation show.
Year Introduced 2010 2003 1948
Assembly Drummondville, Quebec, Canada
  • Fort Valley, Georgia
  • LaFayette, Georgia (2004–2010)
Fort Valley, Georgia

Type A

  • single rear wheel (MB-II)
  • dual rear wheel (G5)
Type C

Type D

  • front engine
  • rear engine
Chassis Manufacturer Ford Motor Company

General Motors

Blue Bird
Fuel Type(s)
  • Gasoline
  • Diesel
  • Diesel
  • Propane
  • Diesel
  • Compressed Natural Gas (CNG)
Passenger Capacity 10-30 36-77 54-90
Other Notes
  • Introduced for 2011 model year as part of Micro Bird, Inc. joint venture with Girardin.
  • Replaces Micro Bird
  • The Vision was introduced in 2004 and is currently in its second generation (introduced 2008).
  • The Vision uses an in-house chassis from Blue Bird.
  • The All American FE has been produced on a Blue Bird-designed chassis since 1952; the All American RE chassis has been produced by Blue Bird since 1988.
  • Current version (internally known as D3) introduced for 2010.
  • Known in export markets as the Blue Bird TX3; formerly known as the TC/3000 and All Canadian.[14]
Former Product Lines
Model Name Years Produced Assembly Configuration Chassis Supplier Notes
Micro Bird

Late 2000s Blue Bird Micro Bird on Chevrolet Express chassis

  • Fort Valley, Georgia
  • Mount Pleasant, Iowa
  • Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Type A
  • single rear wheel
  • dual rear wheel
Ford Motor Company

General Motors

  • Replaced with products from Micro Bird, Inc. joint venture with Girardin.
  • From 1992 to 1999, the Micro Bird was sold alongside Girardin-produced Blue Bird MB-II/MB-IV models.
  • From 1995 to 1996, a heavy-duty model using the Chevrolet P30 chassis was produced using modified Chevrolet G30 front bodywork.

late 1990s Blue Bird/Girardin MB-II

1992–1999 Drummondville, Quebec, Canada Type A
  • single rear wheel (MB-II)
  • dual rear wheel (MB-IV)
Ford Motor Company

General Motors

  • Introduced in Canada in 1991.
  • Produced by Canada's Girardin Minibus and distributed in the United States as Blue Bird-brand products[15]
  • MB-II continues in production and is now sold again as a Blue Bird (Micro Bird by Girardin)
Mini Bird

Late 1990s Blue Bird Mini Bird

  • Buena Vista, Virginia
  • Mount Pleasant, Iowa
Type B General Motors
  • Chevrolet P30
  • Mini Bird was the first Blue Bird marketed with special-needs customers in mind.
  • Featured the same body width 96 inches (2.4 m) as full-size Blue Birds.
CV200 & SBCV

Blue Bird CV200

  • to 2004
  • 1992-2003
  • 2005-2008
  • LaFayette, Georgia
  • Mount Pleasant, Iowa
  • Buena Vista, Virginia
  • Brantford, Ontario, Canada
  • Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico
Type C Chrysler Corporation
  • Dodge D-300 (to 1977)

DaimlerChrysler Corporation

Ford Motor Company

  • Ford B700 (1966–1998)

General Motors

International Harvester

Navistar International

  • CV200 replaced by Vision in 2003.
  • Blue Bird received exclusive use of General Motors Type C chassis from 1992 to 2003.
    • Known as Blue Bird CV200
  • Navistar 3300-chassis version was named Blue Bird SBCV.
TC/1000 1997–2001 Type D
  • front engine
  • front engine
  • rear engine
Blue Bird Corporation
  • Marketed primarily for special-needs customers
  • Front-engine version only; smaller than TC/2000
  • Flat-floor interior configuration

1988–1990 Blue Bird TC/2000 school bus (retired)

  • Fort Valley, Georgia
  • LaFayette, Georgia
  • Mount Pleasant, Iowa
  • Brantford, Ontario, Canada
Blue Bird Corporation
  • Lighter duty chassis than All American
  • Lower price meant to attract larger fleet buyers.

Other Vehicles

Transit Buses
NJ Transit Blue Bird CSFE3000 #608 in Jersey City, New Jersey at Journal Square.

Blue Bird CS transit bus

  • Ultra LF, Ultra LMB, and Xcel 102 - commercial buses; product line still produced by parent corporation subsidiary North American Bus Industries, Inc. (NABI) at their Anniston, Alabama facilities
  • CS - Transit bus derivative of Blue Bird's Type D product line. Three specific variants derived from All American, TC/2000, and TC/1000.
  • Q-Bus- commercial transit/charter bus, introduced 1992.[5]
  • Wanderlodge - luxury recreational vehicle/motorcoach; rights to product line sold to Complete Coach Works in 2007. Production ceased in 2009.
  • Envirobus 2000 -a late 1990s natural-gas school bus prototype that was a testbed for safety-related technology.[16] Not intended as a production vehicle.
  • 2002 Blue Bird/Ford - several prototypes of Type C school bus bodies built on Ford F-750 chassis. Ford ultimately never entered into a supply agreement with Blue Bird (to replace the GM one that was to soon to expire); these were the last Ford-chassis Type C school buses ever built. Several features later incorporated into 2004 Blue Bird Vision.[17]
  • EC-72 -a late-2000s limited series of Type C school bus prototypes intended to test out new production designs. Chassis design based on 2008-current Blue Bird Vision. Approximately 50 were produced.
Blue Bird Corporation Timeline
Configuration 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s
'70 '71 '72 '73 '74 '75 '76 '77 '78 '79 '80 '81 '82 '83 '84 '85 '86 '87 '88 '89 '90 '91 '92 '93 '94 '95 '96 '97 '98 '99 '00 '01 '02 '03 '04 '05 '06 '07 '08 '09 '10 '11
Type A Micro Bird Micro Bird by Girardin
MB-II/MB-IV by Girardin
Type B Mini Bird
Type C Conventional SBCV
Vision Vision
Type D All American All American All American (A3) All American (D3)
TC/2000 TC/2000
  • Envirobus 2000 -a late 1990s natural-gas school bus prototype that was a testbed for safety-related technology.[18] Not intended as a production vehicle.


  1. Blue Bird Corporation
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7
  3. "Blue Bird Corporation/About Us/History". Retrieved on 2010-01-11.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Blue Bird Corporation To Relocate Micro Bird Production; Blue Bird Press Release, May 8, 2007
  5. 5.0 5.1 Blue Bird Body Co. 1996 10-K405 Annual Report -- [X] Reg. S-K Item 405
  6. "Volvo Group; Volvo Logistics North America". Retrieved on 2009-08-10.
  7. Osborne, Alistair (2001-09-07). "; Henlys takes a skid after US bus sales fall", Retrieved on 2009-08-10. 
  8. "Blue Bird Corporation/About Us/History". Retrieved on 2010-01-09.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Blue Bird Corporation To Sell Coachworks Coach And RV Product Lines To Complete Coach Works; Blue Bird Press Release, July 16, 2007
  11. CCW Acquires Blue Bird Coachworks and Wanderlodge
  12. "School Bus Fleet News, Blue Bird No. 1 donated to historical institution, March 10, 2008", (2008-03-10). Retrieved on 2009-08-10. 
  13. "Press Releases/BLUE BIRD AND GIRARDIN ANNOUNCE JOINT VENTURE(2009-10-19)". Retrieved on 2010-01-17.
  14. "Autobus Girardin - Minibus (Specialized bus) Used minibus | Autobus Girardin (School bus) Girardin Minibus". (2009-05-23). Retrieved on 2009-08-10.
  15. "Girardin; A Brief History". Retrieved on 2009-08-10.
  16. "Blue Bird Envirobus 2000 School Bus". Blue Bird Corporation via on 2010-07-10. Archived version of Blue Bird's website on this vehicle, with link to specifications.
  17. "School Bus Central- 2002 Blue Bird/Ford". Retrieved on 2010-07-10. Webpage with archived version of product literature
  18. Archived version of Blue Bird's website on this vehicle, with link to specifications.

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